Sun Safety and Cancer Hazards

Posted: Jul. 7, 2021

Sun Safety and Cancer Hazards

Introduction

As summer launches into full swing, we want to address the risk of cancer from exposure to the sun. Many workers are exposed to the sun at work and over-exposure can lead to skin cancer.

The Melanoma Research Alliance provides a cancer survivor story that might be typical of the risks that anyone of us might suffer while being outdoors over time. The Alliance tells the story of “Chris”, a Lieutenant in the Phoenix Police Department whose many years patrolling the streets left him dangerously susceptible to UV damage. After he noticed a mole on his calf, Chris was diagnosed with a dangerous stage 3 melanoma, that had spread to nearby lymph nodes in his leg. He required surgery and additional treatment to prevent recurrence. As a survivor, Chris and his family are now committed to raising awareness about melanoma amongst those who work outdoors.

Illnesses from overexposure to the sun

According to the Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC), non-melanoma skin cancers are the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canada.

An estimated 7000 cases of skin cancer were attributed to occupational sun exposure in Canada in 2014. The U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on preventing skin cancer (2014) stated that there are 5 million people treated annually for skin cancer in the U.S. at a cost of over $8 billion dollars. The incidence rate of skin cancers in North America, including melanoma, continues to rise. The main cause of skin cancer is solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation, a known human carcinogen.

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Damaging rays

  • Anyone working outside will be exposed to invisible ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. There are two types of UV rays that are of concern to workers, UVA and UVB.
  • UVA can penetrate deeply below the skin. UVB penetrates less deeply but still causes skin cancer.
  • Tans and burns are an indication of overexposure.
  • Anyone’s skin can be damaged by UV exposure. People with lighter skin tones are at the highest risk of damage from UV radiation, and skin cancer.
  • The UV index is available from public weather agencies. UV indices above 5 are considered to pose a high risk of harm.
  • All exposure to the sun should be assessed and controlled.

Skin cancer

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in North America and can be fatal. Common skin cancers include basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.

Some indicators of skin cancer may include:

  • New, large or unusual looking moles
  • Itchy or painful moles
  • Sores that bleed and do not heal
  • Red patches or lumps

You should consult with your physician if you notice any unusual skin conditions. Early treatment for cancer and pre-cancerous conditions is critical to survival and recovery.

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Control measures

  • Provide all exposed workers with education on the hazards of exposure
    to the sun
  • Include sun exposure in task hazard and risk assessments
  • Be aware of the risks while driving, near open windows and on cloudy
    days
  • Apply the hierarchy of controls to sun exposure hazards
  • Provide UV protective clothing, safety glasses and sunscreen to outdoor
    workers and instructions on how to use the PPE effectively.

Best practices

  • Provide all exposed workers with education on the hazards of exposure
    to the sun
  • Include sun exposure in task hazard and risk assessments
  • Be aware of the risks while driving, near open windows and on cloudy
    days
  • Apply the hierarchy of controls to sun exposure hazards
  • Provide UV protective clothing, safety glasses and sunscreen to outdoor
    workers and instructions on how to use the PPE effectively.

Enjoy the sun but respect the hazards

The following material was either used in the preparation of this newsletter or can be accessed if you require additional information:

  • CDC NIOSH Fast Facts: Protecting Yourself from Sun Exposure
    https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2010-116/
  • Alberta Health Services: Outdoor workers
    https://www.healthiertogether.ca/living-healthy/limit-uv-rays/outdoor-workers/ 

Please contact your InUnison safety representative if you require any assistance with your health and safety system. assistance with your hazard awareness programs.

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